Tuesday, June 9, 2009
Some of my earliest memories are of sitting in front of the TV at my Grandparents house watching the Moon Landings. Even as a five year old seeing those 12 astronauts walking on an alien world filled my young brain with hope for the future.
I thought I would get a chance to walk on the Moon as well, because just like when my mom was growing up Jets were a new technology that only a few people could travel in, but by the time I was growing up they were commonplace. Taking it back further when my Grandmother was growing up Lindbergh’s non-stop solo flight to Europe was a technological feat.
Now my wife and I are thinking of having a kid, I call this Project Scion, and even though I look forward to watching Moon Landings with the kid, this was not supposed to be a generational event.
Looking at the world today with the total economic collapse, the fact that last year demand for oil (the life blood of our industrial civilization) outpaced oil production, the fact that the largest climate shift in human history is looming, and thousands of other signs of doom and despair you might wonder why we have chosen this time to raise a child. The answer is simple for the first time since I was a kid growing up I feel optimistic about the future.
Over the course of my life I have watched science, research and development budgets being slashed. I was a kid when Nixon cut the last three Moon Missions, but the Skylab missions still had me hopeful of the future.
I was old enough to know that the Apollo-Soyuz was the last mission for the indefinite future I lowered my expectations. Even with NASA boasting of how the Shuttle would be all things to all people and would cost only pennies a day to operate it was obvious that it wouldn’t be the spacecraft to return us to the Moon and I’d have to wait for space technology to advance.
While that was happening I did have a glimmer of hope, Jimmy Carter announced that freeing us from our dependence on foreign oil would be the moral equivalent of war. I imagined a brave new world, where we could use our brains to advance as a people and put the vast scientific know how that allowed men to walk on the Moon to solve the problems that plagued mankind and in the pursuit of those goals we would make discoveries that would let us once more go into that final frontier.
Then he was laughed out of office.
I watched as Reagan and Bush slashed not only NASA’s budget but all funding towards Science and Technology even as Steve Jobs and Bill Gates were putting some of the space technology (microchips) to use in the hands of the public.
If it wasn’t bad enough that they slashed Science budgets, the whole tone of the nation started vilifying science and by extension intelligence. Being intelligent in America became a curse.
When Bill was elected I thought things would change, clearly an intelligent person would recognize the importance of inspiring other intelligent people to succeed instead of having to hide, but instead he put on an “aw shucks” routine and played dumb while slashing scientific research in this country to the bare bones.
By the time Bush came through and declared war on science and the “Intellectual elite” it didn’t mean much as even when discoveries were made they wouldn’t be developed. Bucky Tubes and nano-technology have been around for a couple of decades now. If they had been funded so they could develop into mature technologies we could have cars that weighed hundreds of pounds instead of thousands, as well as planes and of course spacecraft.
Seeing policy makers turn public opinion into down right hostility against anyone who could think for themselves made me decide against having a child that, if genetics is any indication, should be a super-genius.
But now it seems that people are looking around and noticing what 30 years of embracing stupid and rejecting science has led to.
No new innovations in science has led to innovations in money making like Default Credit Swaps, and Mortgage Backed Derivatives.
Not inspiring our children to wonder “What if” has meant all our industrial products come from overseas as Japanese and Korean’s wondered “What if we did this to improve a car?”
In times of great crisis there is great opportunity. To overcome the challenges that are in front of us we will need to once again foster an environment where an interest in science is considered something to be praised not scorned. Where critical thinking is seen as the solution to a problem and not “the problem”.
After watching a country’s Science policy go from science and research being a source of strength for our nation to something that should be despised, I wouldn’t have a genius kid while our leaders considered logic a menace and truth the enemy.
We’ve seen what happens when we embrace the stupid; Peak Oil, Financial Ruin, Death and Destruction on a massive scale.
It’s time to put intelligence back to work, and that is why I am hopeful for the future.
It will be a long time before we can forget what embracing stupid does. 60 years if history is any guide. So that gives my kid plenty of time to grow up in a world that values intelligence, honesty and a strong work ethic.
So America I am putting you on notice, I will watch the Moon Landings with my kid but I will not sit by and let the world make it an event to have me watch the Moon Landing with my Grandchild.
You’ve got 60 to 80 years to make sure that a Moon Landing is no more eventful than a plane crossing the Atlantic.